I was serenely preaching on Wednesday night for the First Wednesday program at church. I believed from the number of pages of my sermon that I would speak for 30-35 minutes. But when I looked out and Douglas appeared to have a borborygmus tummy, I wondered what was wrong with him, but I kept preaching.
Then, people kept getting up and leaving out of the sanctuary. I thought that maybe people were just tired from working all day and then coming to church that night. I have been a professional speaker for a few years, so I am not usually disturbed by people coming and going, but it can be distracting, especially because I think that one should be able to sit still for at least thirty-five minutes. But, I kept on preaching.
Then I looked up and saw the time on the clock at the back of the church, and I understood all of the commotion. I had been speaking for nearly fifty minutes! I was shocked to discover that I had been talking that long! I was taught that sermons should not be longer than 30 minutes, to keep your audience attuned and interested. Even I would have been looking at the clock and wondering when the preacher was finally going to end, if I had been in the congregation.
I have preached only about 3 or 4 times in the last three years, so the art of timing sermons is still treacherous for me. I must admit that due to being sick from Saturday to Tuesday, I simply did not time the sermon as I normally would have done. I just decided that the number of pages would be a great indicator of how long it would take me to preach the sermon.
I was explaining that often we misunderstand God because we are so focused on our problems or griefs that we cannot “see” His blessings and how He is working in our lives. I used the story of Naomi found in the book of Ruth and a story of when I was raped at gunpoint and thought that God had forsaken me, only to discover that two other women in the same area had been raped and shot and killed the same night. The whole time of the assault, a smal still voice in my spirit was desperately repeating, Do not look at his face! So, I did not, and that may have saved my life. In hindsight, I realized that I was not alone, and that God had not forsaken me.
I did not realize how hard it would be to tell the story of my rape, especially as I had never even told my daughters or friends, only I think Douglas. I thought that I was past the emotional pain of the event, as it happened nearly 42 years ago. So, it took me longer than I thought to relate my terror, guilt, shame, and anger. I learned that when you cover something so difficult, you simply cannot time it to the minute.
No wonder Douglas covered his ears when I started singing a song, The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow, at the end of the sermon. No, he was not being disrespectful to me. The problem is that Douglas has ADHD, and after about 30-40 minutes into a speech, one of his legs starts to jerk, and as the time increases, his body parts intensify in their spastic movements. So, by the time I finished preaching Wednesday, he was just trying to keep it together, out of love for his poor unsuspecting wife.
I looked on the church’s Facebook page when we got home, for we live-streamed the services, and saw the time at 46:57, and part of the sermon was not recorded! I can just imagine that the Facebook crowd had long stopped listening, but the people in the church were a captive audience. Also, they are nice people, so they just seemed so interested in what I was saying, and if there were bored faces, I was so absorbed in preaching that I missed them.
Out of respect for my audience, I will be more attentive to timing my sermons, starting my sermon preparation a few weeks ahead instead of one week or two weeks before. Whether speaking or preaching, we owe it to our audience to be as prepared as possible, taking in consideration the emotional aspects of speaking our own stories.